Hydroponic Weed Guide for Growers

Hydroponic Weed Guide for Growers


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Louis Levey
Louis Levey is a content marketer, SEO, and journalist in the cannabis space. His work has been featured in High Times, Dope Magazine, Alpacannabis, and other notable cannabis publications.

Are there benefits to growing hydroponic weed and what are the options for commercial and home cultivators?

The global hydroponics market was worth $9.5 billion in 2021, with hydroponic grow systems used primarily to produce agricultural products like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and other produce globally. But for decades, cannabis cultivators have been innovating with hydroponic techniques to grow high-quality cannabis flower in the shadows.

These days, hydro cultivation operations can be lucrative, legal endeavors employing many and backed by millions. However, even small-scale home growers can utilize these systems for impressive yields.

Whether you’re a commercial cultivator interested in switching to hydroponic cultivation or a home grower looking to learn more, this guide will teach you everything you need to know about what hydroponic weed is and how it compares to soil-grown cannabis, systems to grow it, and more.

What is Hydroponic Weed?

Hydroponic weed, meaning “working with water” in Latin, is the name for cannabis that’s grown using a water-focused system. These grows incorporate a soilless medium and constantly oxygenated, nutrient-rich water to keep plants healthy throughout the grow cycle.

Growing hydroponic weed involves setting up and maintaining a hydroponic grow system. But we’ll go over the options a bit later on in this guide. For now, it’s essential to know that growing hydro weed involves a water-based grow system and water-soluble nutrients.

Hydroponic Weed vs. Regular Weed

So, what’s the difference between hydroponic weed and regular weed? Is growing cannabis hydroponically worth the effort?

To make the right choice for your operation, it’s essential to consider the differences between hydroponic and soil growth. Here’s how they compare:

Germination, Transplanting, & Harvesting

While soil and hydro cultivators germinate their seeds using the same techniques, some are exclusive to each method.

For instance, soil cultivators can sow seeds straight into their final soil or into soil plugs before transplanting them. However, hydroponic cultivation can involve sowing seeds into Rockwool cubes placed in net pots before being put into a hydroponic system.

Hydro growers can leave sprouts in the same net pot and hydroponic system throughout the grow cycle. Soil growers usually perform more transplants, depending on each cultivator’s preferences.

Harvests are comparable for hydro and soil grows. Both methods allow for wet or dry trimming, and cultivators still need to cure their buds before tasting the finished product.

Hydroponic vs. Soil Growing Medium

A hydroponic system uses water as the nutritional medium. But the plants require structural support between the roots and stem to allow them to maintain an upright position in the net pots. This is where inert substrates like coco noir, clay pebbles, and Rockwool come in handy.

Rather than using soil, your hydroponics weed roots remain exposed to the water nutrient solution. This gives the plants constant access to essential nutrients for healthy hydro bud development.

For soil cannabis grows, the plants’ roots take macronutrients and micronutrients through a process called diffusion. Soil cultivation involves adding synthetic nutrients or organic matter to the soil. As the grow ages, soil organisms release nutrients from the organic matter into the soil, which makes these nutrients available to the plants.

Hydroponic Grow Medium Options

Your hydroponic medium acts as a soil substitute in a hydroponic grow system. This inert medium holds water, nutrients, and oxygen for your plants without producing anything that can damage your plants’ root systems.

These are some of the cultivator-preferred mediums you can use to grow hydroponic weed:

Air

Air is an excellent medium to use in a hydroponic weed garden, mainly if using an NFT system. The main concern is humidity maintenance to keep your roots from drying out.

Coco Coir

Coco coir is an organic byproduct of the coconut industry. It’s an excellent growing substrate because it holds moisture well, doesn’t compact and is easy on the roots. Equally important to note is that this substrate improves root structure quality while increasing plant yields.

Hydroclay Pellets

Hydroclay pellets are small, oxygenated bits of clay ideal for hydroponic marijuana systems. These are lightweight, eco-friendly, and easy to clean with a hydrogen peroxide-water mixture before reusing, which makes them an excellent choice for first-time hydro growers. They’re also pH-stable and let air pass freely throughout the grow.

Perlite

Perlite is a volcanic rock that’s been superheated until it pops like popcorn. This results in an inert, porous, lightweight medium that lets water drain quickly while providing drainage and aeration for your roots. It also has a neutral pH, ensuring it doesn’t impact the water or liquid nutrients used in your hydroponic system.

Rockwool

Rockwool is a typical substrate used in hydroponic weed gardens. It’s made from basalt rock and recycled glass melted down into fibers. This lightweight hydroponic substrate comes in granular, cube, block, and growing slab products, which makes it the perfect addition to hydroponic cannabis cultivation operations of any size. And let’s not forget, it’s prized among growers for its water and oxygen retention capabilities.

Vermiculite

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that’s lightweight, retains water and nutrients well, and regulates soil pH levels. However, some cultivators believe it’s too good at retaining water as it can increase the risk of a waterlogged grow, which encourages fungal and bacterial growth.

Water

Water is the simplest and most common medium used for hydroponic weed cultivation. The roots remain submerged in a water-based nutrient solution, which gives them constant access to essential nutrients. Cultivators typically use distilled water because it lacks harmful contaminants. Then, they dilute it with some tap water. However, you can also use tap water that’s undergone reverse osmosis.

Hydroponic Systems Explained

Growing cannabis hydroponically involves setting up a hydroponic system. However, you’ll need to consider the size of your grow, hydroponic experience, and material availability.

Each hydro grow system has standard features, including a nutrient solution reservoir and a growing tray. This tray holds an inert medium, which allows robust stem and root system development essential for giving your plants access to the nutrient solution.

Here’s a list of hydroponic grow system options and applications:

Hydroponic Systems for Beginners

Aeroponics Systems

Aeroponic systems are easier to set up and maintain than other hydroponic systems. These also don’t require a growing medium.

The roots in an aeroponic system hang in the air, and a fine spray distributes nutrients into the system. By exposing the roots to more oxygen, this system minimizes energy consumption and encourages rapid plant growth. But it’s essential to check the misting valves to prevent clogging because this can keep moisture from reaching your plants’ roots.

Bubbleponics Systems

A bubbleponics system combines deep water culture with drip hydroponic systems. It’s similar to a DWC system in that the roots are submerged in a nutrient solution. However, an air pump oxygenates the solution, which helps prevent root rot and encourages rapid plant growth.

This system is easy to set up and doesn’t require much maintenance, which makes it a solid option for first-time growers. But monitoring the roots closely is essential to ensure they get enough oxygen.

Deep Water Culture Systems (DWC)

A deep water culture system is one of the most popular hydro grow systems for beginners because of its simplicity and efficacy. It’s also known as a reservoir system because the roots dip into a nutrient solution reservoir consistently oxygenated by an air pump.

This system is easy to set up and doesn’t require much maintenance beyond checking pH levels and adding nutrients to the reservoir. But you’ll still need to monitor your roots closely because they can rot if constantly submerged in water.

Drip Irrigation Systems

A drip irrigation system is also preferable for first-time growers because it’s easy to set up and doesn’t require constant monitoring.

In this system, you place your plants in a growing tray, and the roots dangle down into a nutrient solution reservoir. An automated pump slowly drips the solution onto the roots, which gives them access to a constant supply of nutrients.

Wick Hydroponic Systems

As the name suggests, a wick system uses a wick ideology to grow cannabis hydroponically. Your plants absorb nutrients from your grow tray, which gets nutrients from the nutrient reservoir using a cotton or yarn wick.

The issue with this system arises if you have bigger plants absorbing nutrients quickly. If the wick uptake isn’t fast enough, it can be challenging to maintain your plants’ oxygen levels, which puts your cannabis plants at risk of hindered growth or even death.

Advanced Hydroponic Grow Systems

Ebb and Flow Systems

This system works well and offers a self-maintaining environment that incorporates a submerged pump responsible for regulating nutrient and oxygen flow to the plant’s roots. A timer regulates the solution’s flow to ensure your tray won’t flood for more than 30 minutes at a time. This ensures you’re not oversupplying your plants with nutrients while maintaining oxygen flow to your roots.

The benefit of this cyclic system is that it allows for deep and even watering of your plants. This option prevents stagnant water from adversely impacting your roots since the tray has drainage holes. However, an ebb and flow system can be tricky to set up, so it’s best suited for experienced growers.

Top Feed Drip Systems

This system, also known as a hydroponic drip system, is one of the most efficient ways to grow cannabis hydroponically. It utilizes a recirculating pump that oxygenates and mixes the nutrients as your nutrient solution flows through the system. This allows you to evenly feed your plants without physically moving or monitoring solutions.

You can also add automation so your plants get fed on a schedule that works best for their growth. Complete drip feed systems typically include a water/nutrient pump and an air pump for reservoir oxygenation.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) Systems

The nutrient film technique hydroponic system utilizes a very shallow stream of water and nutrients. Your plants are placed in grow trays with sloped walls, so the solution can flow down and reach the roots.

Comparable to the Ebb and Flow, this system is efficient because it only uses a small amount of water and nutrients. This reduces the risk of root rot and ensures your plants get everything they need. However, the nutrient film technique can be tricky to set up, so it’s best suited for experienced growers.

GrowerIQ's cannabis manufacturing software includes a Master Batch Record overview screen that highlights all information pertaining to your batch in one place.
GrowerIQ’s cannabis manufacturing software includes a Master Batch Record overview screen that highlights all information pertaining to your hydroponic grow in one place.

Hydro Weed FAQ

Is growing weed hydroponically good?

Hydroponic weed cultivation allows plants to mature much faster – up to 30-50% quicker than those grown in soil. Also, hydro weed plants often produce significantly higher yields than their soil-grown counterparts. This is because cultivators can harvest hydro buds more often than traditionally-grown plants.

Is hydroponic weed natural?

Hydroponic weed is cannabis flower that’s grown without using soil. In place of the natural nutrients found in soil, growers use a blend of water-soluble nutrients – natural and/or synthetic – in the grow system.

Is hydroponic weed better than soil?

Growing weed hydroponically results in significantly fewer pests and diseases than soil cultivation. Using hydroponic methods also makes feeding plants extremely efficient, which allows hydroponic plants to grow faster than soil plants, often resulting in better yields.

Is hydroponic weed less potent?

Some cannabis users believe hydro nugs are more potent than soil-grown cannabis buds. However, this isn’t supported by scientific analysis. A study conducted in 2013 revealed that the strength of indoor and outdoor-grown cannabis compared was the same.

Closing on Hydroponic Weed Cultivation

Hydroponic weed cultivation has many advantages for cultivation operations, big and small. By growing weed hydroponically, it’s possible to provide your plants with the nutrients they need to grow quickly and produce large yields. However, it’s important to note that some of these systems can be challenging to set up and have unique pros and cons.

Regardless of which stage you are on your grow journey, consider investing in a quality hydroponic weed growing system. With proper configuration and attention, you can produce high-quality cannabis that’s sure to impress.

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